Read an Excerpt
Nothing But Deception
By Allegra Gray
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Allegra Gray
All right reserved.
Chapter OneParis March 1815
"Non, Maman. I am French. Not an Englishman's son. You must not be thinking clearly."
Solange Durand's fingers fretted the sheets, but she looked her son in the eye. "Philippe. It is my body that has betrayed me, not my mind." It would not be long now, she thought, and yet she'd left so much undone. So much unsaid.
Jean Philippe Durand shook his head. His blue eyes, so very like those belonging to the one she'd loved and lost, filled with pain and shock.
"Trust me, darling. Go to him, and you will see." Solange reached out a shaky hand to touch his cheek. Her boy. How had she done this to him? No, she reminded herself. She'd done it for him.
The sounds of the Paris streets filtered in through the open window, her only outlet to the greater world anymore. A pair of women laughed, a governess called to a child. Hoofs clipped along, then came to a stop. Solange sucked in a breath. Was Richard home? Were they still safe? Rumor had it Napoleon was on the move again.
Richard had a way of landing on his feet, but it never came without a cost. How many lies, how many friends betrayed in the name of politics? Her husband's political intrigues ran deep. The constant uncertainty, spread across years, had depleted her.
Philippe scowled, drawing her attention once more. "If, as you say, I am the son of this Lord Owen, what use have I for him? He abandoned us both. Why should I go to him now?"
"Because, my son," she said softly, "you've spent your entire life trying to emulate him."
It was a lie. So many lies. Perhaps she was as bad as Richard. But this one she told without guilt, for it would serve him well. Solange's hand dropped to her side and her eyes slipped closed as the pain grew more intense. Her son needed to know. More importantly, he needed to leave France, lest he pay for her mistakes.
Philippe smoothed the sheets around her. His long fingers brushed her cheek, he assumed she slept. "Rest, Maman."
Summoning her strength, she squeezed his hand and whispered, "Lord Henry Owen is an Englishman, yes, but he is also Henri Gaudet, the elusive artiste you have for so long sought."
Philippe drew back. "No! That cannot be. Gaudet is French. Every brushstroke of every one of his works screams it."
Solange smiled inwardly, her face too exhausted to form the expression. Her son was not easily fooled.
"Please," she whispered, desperate to make him understand what she'd sworn not to reveal. "Lord Owen. Go to him."
Richard Durand had worked too hard, too long, to give up now. He walked through the door to the Paris town house where his wife lay upstairs, dying. A shame, truly, but one he could not devote attention to-not with the latest news of the Emperor flooding the streets.
He'd met Napoleon Bonaparte when the future ruler was but a newly commissioned second lieutenant in the French army. Richard had outranked him at the time, but he'd sensed his fellow officer's potential even then. Bonaparte had fire, ambition.
Richard had ambition as well, but he lacked the vision to go with it, and he knew it. His main skill, as he liked to believe, lay in knowing the right sort of people. Building relationships and maintaining them-or, if necessary, destroying them.
He'd ridden his relationship with Napoleon all the way to his current level, though ever since Napoleon had abdicated last spring, Richard had professed to anyone who would listen that the Emperor had gotten out of hand, and that he no longer supported the zealous ex-ruler. Such political maneuvering had, once again, kept him on his feet-and kept him from being run out of Paris.
But times were changing once more. Richard punched a fist into the air, a silent celebration in the gloomy town house.
Napoleon had escaped his exile in Elba. Even now, reports said, he was on his way to Paris. If Richard could position himself properly, there was tremendous potential here. But he had to be careful-the Emperor had angered too many people, too many nations. If he failed in his quest to return to power, Richard needed to ensure his name was not linked with that of his former boss. Self-preservation demanded it. Fortunately, Richard had a plan.
"Word from Vienna?" Richard eyed the messenger across the café table. Both men wore their hats pulled low, though it was unlikely either would be recognized in this part of town.
His companion nodded. "The Congress has committed-they say they can put 150,000 men in the field to defeat Napoleon."
"One hundred fifty thousand?" Richard Durand echoed. He'd spent the past four days pacing. Though the news he was hearing would soon spread throughout town, he'd paid extravagantly for the privilege of being the first to know.
"Each," the messenger added.
"Each?" The United Kingdom. The Prussians. The Austrians. The Russians. Richard did the mental calculation. It was too much.
"Oui." The travel-worn messenger slouched in his chair.
"They are very determined, monsieur."
"The French are gathering as well. Since the Fifth and Seventh Regiments returned their loyalty to Bonaparte, several thousand more have joined him, including Marshal Ney."
This, Richard already knew. The enthusiasm of the French army was encouraging. Their numbers were not.
"Merci," Richard said. "The information is timely, and useful. I cannot say when, or if, you will be contacted again. We will not meet here again." He slipped the man a purse, and watched him dissolve into the night.
Six hundred thousand men. Emperor Napoleon had no hope of countering a force so great. Even a fraction of that would prove difficult. How much support did he have within his own army? Would the remaining regiments join his cause, and how hard would they fight? They were battle-hardened, yes, but weary of political unrest. How far would they go for him?
Richard stood, pulled his hat brim even lower, and began walking. He'd exited his carriage several blocks away, then instructed his driver to wait. Though he did his best to hire loyal servants, it was prudent in some cases to prevent anyone from knowing exactly where, and with whom, he'd met.
Though the evening was brisk, he kept his pace measured, using the time to think.
Napoleon could do so much-had already done so much-for France. Far more than the weak-willed Bourbons.
If his army could not count on brute strength, they would need to gain an advantage by other means. Years of watching the self-appointed Emperor in military campaigns had taught Richard that the best advantage came from knowing your enemy. An army of tens could defeat one of thousands, if the smaller force had the advantage of knowing where, when, and how the enemy planned to strike.
If Richard could provide that kind of information to the French-and if the French were successful in using it-then his own value to the Emperor would increase immeasurably. And his reward ... ah, his reward, if nothing else, would be the knowledge that he, Richard, had made it happen. That he was valued, even priceless. The thought made him giddy.
Of course, it would not be easy. There was no time to slowly blend in, to cultivate new, trusting relationships that could be harvested for gain. He would have to use whoever was already in place.
He was not a spy by trade, preferring to leave the cloak-and-dagger operations to those who didn't mind risking discomfort, capture, and even their lives. But he'd spent years building a political network, one populated by men of questionable loyalties and even more questionable morals. No, Richard was not a spy. But he knew spies.
Chapter TwoEngland April 1815
"This is the place, monsieur."
Philippe stared up at No. 6 Charles Street. "It looks abandoned." The home stood on an enviable lot on a street that was clearly home to some of England's nobility, but the windows were all darkened, with no discernable signs of life.
The hack driver scratched his head. "Lord Henry Owen, you said?"
"I been driving in this town for many a year, monsieur, and if I may venture to say, I don't believe Lord Owen spends a great deal of his time in London."
Philippe didn't know whether to feel angry or disappointed. After all, he hadn't written ahead to announce his visit. Given the way Lord Owen had dispatched his mother, along with any parental duties, he hadn't known whether his visit would be well received.
Truth be told, he wasn't entirely certain of anything about this mad scheme. It was unthinkable that he would ignore his mother's wish. But what had she hoped to accomplish by sending him here? For that matter, what sort of man was Lord Owen that he avoided London at the height of the Season?
"A recluse?" Philippe asked.
The driver shrugged uncomfortably. "Not my place to say, monsieur."
"Of course. My apologies." He shouldn't have been surprised. From the moment he'd first spied a Gaudet on display in the home of one of his mother's Parisian friends, he'd been enthralled. Tracking down the artist's other works had quickly become an obsession, but the artist himself had remained elusive. If Gaudet and Owen were indeed one and the same, the man clearly had an aversion to Society.
But stranger, and more painful, was the realization that if Owen were actually his father, then his mother, the person with whom Philippe had always been closest, with whom he'd shared everything ... she had kept from him the nature of his very birth, let alone a past with a man she must once have loved-leaving Philippe to wonder if he'd ever really known her at all.
"Will ye be wantin' me to take ye elsewhere, now?"
The driver's question pulled Philippe back to the present.
"Yes." Philippe gave him the address of the hotel where he was staying, then climbed back into the coach. As long as he had to come to England, he'd planned to make the trip worthwhile, to build his artistic reputation here as he had at home and in Italy. Painting was his passion, and he thrived on the communities of fellow artists and patrons inspired by love of art. The work itself involved many solitary hours, but Philippe, unlike the artist who'd first inspired him, was far from a recluse.
Arriving at the hotel, Philippe paid the driver and went to his room to dress for dinner. A respectable establishment, the hotel afforded him greater privacy than staying with any of his London acquaintances. The only downside was the lighting and lack of space. Should he decide to begin a new painting, he'd be hard-pressed to set up a studio at the inn.
Ah, well. The point was moot.
As yet, nothing about dreary London had inspired him to pick up a brush.
Lady Beatrice Pullington smiled as her longtime friend, Elizabeth Bainbridge, entered the comfortable "family" salon of Bea's London town house. "You're looking exceptionally well. It's a wonder Alex doesn't insist on escorting you everywhere," she teased.
Elizabeth, the newly married Duchess of Beaufort, laughed. "He does. He only makes an exception for you." She settled herself further into the comfortable chaise.
"What a relief. Having him glower at me would certainly put a damper on our gossip sessions." Bea poured a cup of tea and passed it to Elizabeth.
"Come now," Elizabeth scoffed, a twitch of her lips betraying her merriment. "He hasn't glowered in months."
"Of course not. He's too enamored of you," Bea told her sincerely. She might be envious of her friend's newfound happiness, but that didn't mean she would see a single ounce of it stripped away, especially knowing all Elizabeth and Alex had endured before learning to love and trust one another. They hadn't had an easy time of it.
A happy flush spread over her friend's complexion. "Actually, Bea, I've come to ask a favor."
"You've heard of the painter, Jean Philippe Durand? There is to be a salon tonight held in his honor. The artiste himself is supposed to be present."
"Yes, I'd heard."
"I promised Charity I would act as her chaperone to the event. She has declared herself madly in love with the Frenchman."
It was Bea's turn to laugh. Charity was Elizabeth's younger sister, a beautiful blonde who, at eighteen, retained much of the impishness that had marked her childhood. In the midst of her first Season, she had suitors lined up for miles-not that any of them held her attention for long.
Honestly, the Medford sisters, though two of Bea's closest friends, always made her feel plain. Charity sparkled with golden beauty, while Elizabeth, less traditional but no less lovely, was a redheaded enchantress-just look how thoroughly she'd bewitched the Duke of Beaufort. In comparison, Bea was just ... Bea.
"Would you attend in my stead, please? I'm simply exhausted these days." Elizabeth's hand moved, almost unconsciously, to her lower abdomen.
Bea felt her eyes grow wide as a giddy rush pushed her to her feet. "E., never tell me you're expecting!"
"Oh, how absolutely wonderful!" Bea skipped to the chaise to embrace her friend. "You and Alex must be beside yourselves with joy."
Elizabeth's smile grew into a grin.
"Of course, I'll attend the salon with Charity. You mustn't worry about a thing. You need your rest. And I don't mind the opportunity to lay eyes on Monsieur Durand, either. He has quite the reputation." It was true. Women across France and Italy had swooned before the popular artist, and now the females of England were lining up to do the same. Bea winked. "Honestly. Don't worry. I'll keep Charity out of trouble."
As Bea waved good-bye to Elizabeth later that afternoon, she couldn't help the pang of jealousy that made her momentarily pause and lean her head against the doorframe before wistfully closing it.
Marriage, and a baby. Well, Bea had experienced the first. At twenty-two, she'd already been a widow for over two years. For most of that time, she'd been grateful for her circumstance. Lord Pullington had never been cruel, but theirs was hardly a love match. When the old man had cocked up his toes a mere six months into their marriage, leaving her an independent woman, she'd felt nothing so much as relief. Only lately had she begun to wonder, especially watching her dearest friend Elizabeth, if life might hold more for her, too.
Between her mother, sisters, and Elizabeth and Charity, Bea never lacked for female companionship. Invitations to teas, soirees, even balls arrived with regularity. She danced when asked, and had been complimented on her conversational skills as a dinner partner. But none of that could erase the fact that Bea was-had always been, even during her brief marriage-alone.
When she'd first been widowed, her spinster cousin Ernesta had come to live with her for some months. The arrangement had been tolerable, though the two women had little in common. The presence of a companion allowed Bea to maintain the aura of propriety her parents and husband had drilled into her.
But last year, Ernesta had surprised them all by answering an advertisement for a teaching position in America. She'd heard that not only teachers, but women as a whole, were in short supply over there, so after thirty-five years of dull but respectable life in England, she'd decided to try her luck in the New World. Bea wished her the best.
When her mother had brought up the topic of a new companion, Bea had argued that the proximity of her parents, scarcely a block away, ought to be sufficient. It wasn't as though she was receiving callers of a questionable nature; not once since widowhood had she engaged in anything more questionable than offering her best friend, Elizabeth, a place to stay when she'd experienced some turmoil with her family. Which, come to think of it, was rather depressing.
She had her independence, but what good had it done her?
Of course, if she wanted to meet the right sort of man-the sort she could love and marry-she needed to attend the right sort of events, not the usual teas and musicales she was too polite to turn down.
Chaperoning Charity at Monsieur Durand's salon seemed like a good place to start. Still, years spent attending ton events left her skeptical. The only appropriate topics of conversation were meaningless-fashion, weather, and such. They left one with scarcely more than a surface-level acquaintance. This time, Bea wanted more. A second marriage to someone who didn't truly know her, and value her at that deeper level, might leave her feeling even emptier than she did now.
Excerpted from Nothing But Deception by Allegra Gray Copyright © 2010 by Allegra Gray. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.